FLASHLIGHT APP – THE GOOD & THE BAD

So, I got home the other day, made a sandwich, sat on the couch, flipped through some channels on the television and came in on the very last of a news story that was warning about identity theft through downloading a smartphone flashlight app. What? Yes! Holy Cow! Have I done this?

I quickly checked my phone. Phew! I didn’t have a flashlight app. What about my husband? He works nights as a truck driver. Surely he would have one to help him navigate his paperwork in the dark. Biting my nails and sitting on pins and needles I waited all night until he got home at 4am.

Like a crazy woman I quickly gave him a welcome home peck on the cheek then ripped his cellphone out of his hip holster. He thought I had lost my mind. I poke, I jab, I slide and, finally, to my immense relief, no flashlight app there either.

Now that all the immediate urgency has passed, I can get down to the nitty-gritty of educating myself on just how serious a threat the flashlight app is. Do they all send your personal information to Russia, China and India? Am I being spied on by foreign nations or, perhaps, my own nation?

Well, many flashlight apps ask for permission to access certain data from the user’s phone. Theoretically, depending on what information is accessed, sensitive personal data could then be made available to cyber-criminals. The important things to note, however, are:

•    Almost any app could potentially pose the same threat, the flashlight app’s exploitation level is no less or greater than any other app
•    An app asking for permission to access your data does not mean a criminal is on the other end

Cybersecurity companies advise that if you perform personal banking from your smartphone, consider the risk of having this information collected through apps that have received your permission to access your personal data. Also, if you’re like any other smartphone user, you have a huge gallery of personal photos and videos. Those could also find their way into the hands of a cyber criminal.

Now, although cybersecurity companies have released reports that reveal the potential threat of the flashlight app, that is only the bad news. The good news is that, although it is possible for such a cyber crime to occur, there is no evidence that this type of nefarious activity is actually taking place. So don’t start hating on Russia, China and India. And, I think the cyber security companies that got me all worked up should be ashamed of themselves for creating such a scare and smearing the Russians, Chinese and Indians.

The most interesting thing is that, if you purchase an app, you usually don’t have to worry about this kind of problem. And, the “free” apps are not really free. The creators of the app still have to make a living. Since users are not paying them for the app they developed, they make their money by selling personal data from app users to marketing companies. You see how that works? That’s the free app business model.

In fact, Goldenshores Technologies had to settle a complaint against their company that was filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The company had been accused of collecting data about user’s locations and identification for their devices and then sharing that information with advertisers.

So, rather than quickly poke that download button in order to accept and install any ol’ free app, get informed. Be careful about which apps you choose. If you find that you have downloaded a nasty one, uninstalling it may not solve the problem. You may have to go so far as a factory reset.

When a sensational story is publicized and creates fear and unease, consider the motives of the publisher. If such a “breaking story” is soon followed with a suggestion to purchase a safer product, you may have just been exposed to a slick media campaign, an advertisement, a con.

Most smartphone users are app crazy. It is not unrealistic to consider that cyber-criminals would want to create their own apps and take advantage of this trend. The best thing to do is familiarize yourself with the companies who create any app you want to feature on your phone. That’s not at all hard to do. In fact, there’s probably an app for that.